Obstetrician, humanitarian, gentle adviser, family man. Born March 31, 1922, in Toronto, died Sept. 16, 2012, in Toronto of natural causes, aged 90.
Bernard Ludwig received many gifts that enabled him to excel in his calling. A handshake would reveal his exceedingly large and strong hands. Even at the end of his life, when the rest of his body weakened, his hands had lost none of their steadiness: ideal surgeon’s hands.
Bernie was tall and handsome, with a gentle smile and voice that projected both worldliness and concern. And he had a medical detective’s cleverness in assessing puzzling symptoms.
He was the son of Jewish immigrant parents Samuel Ludwig and Dorothy Frankel, whose hard work enabled him to attend medical school, graduating in 1945. Medical training was accelerated during the war years, and he completed it while treating soldiers crossing Canada on military trains.
The anti-Semitism of Toronto’s medical establishment led him to Miami and Washington, where he specialized in obstetrics and gynecology. He returned to Toronto in 1950, beginning his practice at Mount Sinai Hospital when it was a small building on Yorkville Avenue.
Bernie had incredible stamina. He earned a reputation for 24/7 availability to his patients and never delegated a delivery to the doctor on call. He delivered more than 20,000 babies – enough to fill the Air Canada Centre – at an average rate of 10 per week for 40 years.
Although he treated many immigrant families of all ethnicities, he became renowned in Toronto’s Jewish community, particularly among the large Orthodox families. He saw his role in assisting the growth of the Jewish community as a response to the anti-Semitism of his youth.
He was a talented diagnostician, detecting many diseases and conditions unrelated to gynecology. And he approached “wonder drugs” or treatment fads with a caution born of long experience. His sister Beverley Borins, who was pregnant in 1959, remembers Bernie’s skepticism about a new drug, thalidomide, then being hailed as the best treatment for morning sickness. Fortunately she took his advice and avoided the drug.
When Bernie stopped delivering babies at 75, he moved to a walk-in clinic in a working-class neighbourhood and practiced family medicine for another decade.
He kept a running tab at the nearby pharmacy, paying for prescriptions when patients couldn’t.
Bernie was a perceptive and sympathetic listener, but was never afraid to give advice, often introduced by saying “if you were my daughter … ” When advising young people, he’d tap his head and say: “This is not a coconut. It is a cranium with a brain. Use it.”
Bernie married Margaret Florence in 1954 and they had four children, Caren, Florence, Sam and John. Margaret took primary responsibility for raising the children while pursuing a career as an artist.
Bernie died on Erev Rosh Hashanah, a time of endings and beginnings. At the end, he encouraged us to begin the New Year without him.
Sandford Borins is Bernie’s nephew.
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